Wanting Love VS Wanting to Be Alone: My Challenge as an Empath

9 Survival Tips I’ve Learned About Empaths and Intimacy

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Empaths Survival GuideAs an empath, I’ve spent much of my life being single. Too much togetherness always seemed overwhelming to me. I wanted love, but I would experience sensory overload when I was in an intimate relationship.

Then things changed. Four years ago, I met my partner. Though it’s been a fantastic growth and love experience, I’m still adjusting to being in a long term intimate relationship—a big stretch for me.

As I discuss in “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” like many empaths, I have a strong hermit side, and I’m not used to interacting with someone each day. I require a huge psychic space around me so I can breathe.

I need my quiet time and to replenish myself alone—not with other people. That’s why too much togetherness can be overstimulating for me. I also can’t take crowds, yelling, chronic talkers, loud voices and sounds, or strong scents. I’m an emotional sponge who absorbs the stress and negativity from others (including from my partner) into my own body.

This can be exhausting if I don’t practice self-care.

However, the beautiful side of being an empath is that I also absorb other people’s joy, compassion, and loving-kindness, which feels marvelous. I love nature. I love baths and the sound of the ocean. I love candlelight and Leonard Cohen.

Until I met my partner, I was mainly single, except for occasional short-term love relationships.

Typically, I’d bolt out of these relationships by year two, because I’d feel overwhelmed and suffocated from interacting with someone so much.

I wasn’t able to be fiercely honest about my emotional and energetic needs—which is so necessary for empaths in relationships. So I kept a lot of emotions inside until they became unbearable. At that point, all I knew was that I yearned for my safe, low-stimulation cave of aloneness, where I could find my own comfort level again.

My current relationship is different. This man respects and understands my sensitivities as an empath (as much as any non-empath can). I’m more honest with him, and he’s more accepting.

I adore his loving heart, sexy exterior, love of nature, and high emotional intelligence. And we truly love and are devoted to each other.

Even so, the struggle I face as an empath in an intimate relationship is that my strong desire for love and connection conflicts with my deep desire to be alone.

I’ve been torn in this way my entire life, a programming that runs deep within me.

When I was single, I’d long for a soul-mate. When I was in a relationship, I’d get overwhelmed and long to escape.

It was a painful puzzle of conflicting needs that was hard to solve. Growing up as an only child, and then becoming a writer, have contributed to my intense desire for solitude. Still, this programming feels many lifetimes old and is hard to crack.

After all these years, I’ve probably met “The One,” and I really don’t want to blow it. We’re living together now, which is a gigantic leap for me (not for him). I haven’t lived with anyone since the 90s!

And empaths are not the easiest people to live with. We have Princess and the Pea-like sensibilities that could drive other people crazy, though our needs feel natural to us. But, by some miracle, my sensitivities don’t drive him crazy and he wants to understand and honor them.

Day by day, we’re loving each other. We make progress and we make mistakes. But we keep getting closer as we find our way in love.

These are 9 Lessons I’ve learned so far about being an empath in an intimate relationship:
  1. I need to carve out alone time every day to feel sane and happy.
  2. I need to sleep alone, frequently, so I can have the uninterrupted space to rest and dream.
  3. I need to do my work, which includes writing my books and seeing patients in my psychotherapy practice—both bring me great joy.
  4. I need to be honest with my partner about my feelings and anxieties when I am overwhelmed by my emotions.
  5. I need to hear his needs and make compromises that we both can live with.
  6. I need to grow beyond my comfort level and try to tolerate my anxiety about living with someone without bolting.
  7. I need to feel his commitment and devotion to me and know he won’t leave me as I find my way with him.
  8. I need to play, be in nature and interpret my dreams every night.
  9. When I’m anxious or overloaded, or feel I just can’t do this, I need to stay in the moment. I need to breathe, regroup, sleep, talk to a friend, take alone time, meditate, and find my center again.

As you can see, my experiment with intimacy is a work in progress.

I’ve always yearned for this kind of soul stretching, but it has always felt “too hard” to change my habits, kind of like turning the Titanic. It’s taken most of my life to feel ready. I see intimate relationships as a spiritual path—but they aren’t for everyone. I can understand the advantages of a monastic path, the path of being single, and any path that involves more of a solitary theme.

In contrast, intimate relationships are about bonding, companionship, passion, and having someone who calls you outside to watch the beauty of the moon, to travel with, to share your feelings with, to ride the currents of each day with, for however long your destiny is together.

If you are an empath, or if you’re in love with one, I hope my experiment with being an empath in an intimate relationship helps you. For me, it’s uncharted terrain, but it is a magnificient and worthy journey of discovery that keeps unfolding each day.

(Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD, which is a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.)



Judith Orloff, MD is a New York Times bestselling author with the upcoming book The Genius of Empathy: Practical Skills to Heal Yourself, Your Relationships and the World (Foreword by the Dalai Lama). She has also written The Empath’s Survival Guide and Thriving as an Empath, which offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people. She integrates the pearls of conventional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, empathy, energy medicine, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice and online internationally. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA, TEDx U.S. and TEDx Asia. More information about Dr. Orloff’s Empathy Training Programs for businesses, The Empath Survival Guide Online Course and speaking schedule at www.drjudithorloff.com.

Connect with Judith on  FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

17 thoughts on “Wanting Love VS Wanting to Be Alone: My Challenge as an Empath

  1. Hi my name is sarika and im an empath and i have a really nice guy treats me like a queen but yet when he comes home im sick of him being around me is that normal ??????? Oh hes and empath as well actually we are a twin flame connection but i pull away everytime i have been wit a narcissist before so im still trying to cope wit everything advice plz

  2. I am an empath and and my partner isn’t. My struggle is that when I ask for time alone or feel I need to recharge my battery, although he “says” he understands, I am picking up different energy.. more like he is put off and his needs aren’t being met. I am a single mother with full custody, independent, and tutor children all day for my work. I need time to give to myself in order to give to others. I’m not sure if we are a match because he will say things like… “I want to spend all day, every day with you!” And he is sweet, loving, generous and thoughtful. I feel guilty when I want to be alone and feel I’m not meeting his needs. I have compromised and sacrificed a lot of free time to be more available to him, but I developed Asthma this past summer. I’ve never had any breathing problems in my 51 years on this planet. I communicate my needs to be alone but still feel tremendous guilt. I sometimes feel I’m not meant to be in a relationship and am better off just being alone, because I am happy when I’m alone. But that also feels like I’m possibly not growing or evolving the way I should, rather, just feeling safe instead. Thoughts???

  3. I have been in a relationship with an empath for over a year now and your articles, particularly this one, have given me great insight into how to love while giving psychic, communication and physical space. A question in my mind is ‘how do empaths experience loneliness?’ What is the essential difference for an empath between being alone and feeling lonely?

  4. My wife and partner of 20+yrs. is an earth grounded one and i’m a fiery empath. (complete opposites) We’ve had arguments over my supposed talking down to her or talking at her loudly as she says she noticed with our kids growing up on occasion as she gets home from a stress filled day of work. I believe she’s tuning me out like they would do and i’m sensing it as I’ve mentioned to her. “I’m not very good at letting her wind down.” I’ve only recently discovered what my anomaly was and still trying to hone in on all my capabilities as it’s up there and has been for a long while. This is a very difficult thing for me, as if i were being shut out or ignored completely. It completely angers me as if I were being shunned. Why couldn’t I be the guy who sits in front of a tv, getting fat and old, snacking on junk food while watching football and ignoring her wishes cause it’s all about me, instead of trying to connect completely so we can stay in that sweet tune of loving bliss and happiness I want to relish everyday. 🙁 It is nice to know however, after all this time why we have had heated arguments. I was being convinced I was losing sanity or had anger issues, which I do have but who doesn’t get wound up when a pattern of being ignored gets recognized. Hopefully this knowledge I decided to look into and share with her gets understood and we can continue for another 20+ yrs. I hope this helps some of you who struggle.

  5. This is so interesting. I’ve been trying to find out why I feel so drained and tried when my family comes home. I even have to turn the volume way up on the tv because just their energy alone makes it so I can hear it. I found this very weird. I retreat for quiet time in my home and feel so bad for not wanting to spend a lot.of time with my husband. His energy is so loud and it drains me. I feel like I need a shield.

  6. Today I looked up extreme empathy and I followed a connection to you. I’ve always known that I was sensitive. I could feel others sadness, happiness, pain and at times confused it as mine. I get giddy when people drink around me ( I don’t drink). This last year I have lost almost all ability to move the last few days breathing was difficult. Today I thought I could be a gonner then I suddenly felt light and completely full of energy again like I hadn’t felt for over a year. I was texted about an hour ago that my neighbor passed away who had been struggling to live. I felt him pass. I am now on a road to build some boundaries for myself. For my own survival. The last hour was eye opening.

  7. That makes so much sense to me now. I thought I was the one who couldn’t be in relationship and something was wrong with me, or because I’m a Capricorn. I’m blessed I’ve been married to a great guy for 22 years.

  8. I totally relate to your article – I’ve been single for many years now. There was a time when I could not be without a relationship in my younger years, but after a few too many toxic and controlling relationships with men, I went the other direction and started attracting unavailable men and have become standoffish about entering into a relationship. It’s been a difficult road especially since I’ve become a strong and super sensitive empath, and my deep fear of being controlled still haunts me at times. But it is a work in progress, and I know that each day I’m healing and becoming a stronger woman. Hopefully one day I will meet the perfect man for me.

  9. I was in a loving relationship for two years. My man was beautiful and sensitive and inspiring, intelligent and creative but also smothering. I was blessed to feel safe enough to communicate my needs to him clearly, and I did. He would listen but on some level not understand. I had to leave the relationship and take my own space again. It’s hard being empath…

    1. Good point. Empaths must speak to their mate about potential smothering. It’s a very important issue to get clear on. As an empath I can switch in a second between feeling smothered VS feeling abandoned. It’s part of my healing to work with this and communicate to my mate.

  10. My husband and I have been together just over 14 years and we are still working to find the delicate balance that it takes to be with an empath. I am blessed that he worships me and is patient, kind and understanding of my sensitivities. It hasn’t been easy, but we both have learned so much about each other in the process.

    1. I love that he worships you. As it should be. Your relationship work sounds beautiful to me. I’m glad you have found a mate who understands and matches you

  11. I am living this myself. Its a very delicate balance to be sure. My partner is not an empath but he takes extremely good care of my empathic needs. I can really relate two you’re talking about wanting to be with someone and wanting to be alone as well. Nice to know that is a normal thing. Thank you for your Insight

    1. Thankyou for sharing. It is a delicate balance for sure. Many empaths struggle with wanting love VS wanting to be alone. Lovely that your partner supports your empath needs!

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